HPMOR Wrap Parties: Resources, Information and Discussion [link to Main post] 2015-03-05T21:15:04.417Z
[Link] IBM to set Watson loose on cancer genome data 2014-03-20T16:48:31.187Z
Self-Study Questions Thread 2014-01-29T01:32:17.379Z
Gauging Interest: Santa Barbara, CA Meetup 2014-01-24T20:22:00.187Z
[Meta] Post-meetup reports and discussion 2013-12-21T04:11:05.529Z
Sal Khan publicly predicts the positive feedback loop associated with human intelligence augmentation. [Link] 2012-08-21T15:57:51.687Z
Ray Kurzweil is speaking at my university tonight. What questions should I ask him? 2012-03-07T01:17:46.043Z


Comment by TylerJay on Open thread, Nov. 16 - Nov. 22, 2015 · 2015-11-18T18:30:26.174Z · LW · GW

Thank you! This is exactly what I was looking for. Thinking in terms of bits of information is still not quite intuitive to me, but it seems the right way to go. I've been away from LW for quite a while and I forgot how nice it is to get answers like this to questions.

Comment by TylerJay on Open thread, Nov. 16 - Nov. 22, 2015 · 2015-11-18T02:29:27.509Z · LW · GW

I'm curious about how others here process study results, specifically in psychology and the social sciences.

The (p < 0.05) threshold for statistical significance is, of course, completely arbitrary. So when I get to the end of a paper and the result that came in at, for example, (p < 0.1) is described as "a non-significant trend favoring A over B," part of me wants to just go a head and update just a little bit, treating it as weak evidence, but I obviously don't want to do even that if there isn't a real effect and the evidence is unreliable.

I've found that study authors are often inconsistent with this—they'll "follow the rules" and report no "main effect" detected when walking you through the results, but turn around and argue for the presence of a real effect in the discussion/analysis based on non-individually-significant trends in the data.

The question of how to update is further compounded by (1) the general irreproducibility of these kinds of studies, which may indicate the need to apply some kind of global discount factor to the weight of any such study, and (2) the general difficulty of properly making micro-adjustments to belief models as a human.

This is exactly the situation where heuristics are useful, but I don't have a good one. What heuristics do you all use for interpreting results of studies in the social sciences? Do you have a cutoff p-value (or a method of generating one for a situation) above which you just ignore a result outright? Do you have some other way of updating your beliefs about the subject matter? If so, what is it?

Comment by TylerJay on List of Fully General Counterarguments · 2015-07-19T10:46:32.860Z · LW · GW

This is a good one. More generally, it's sometimes called the "Why" Regress. Not just about how you know something, but about how something happened or came to be. It applies equally to science and religion.

Edit: "...know you know" => " you know"

Comment by TylerJay on List of Fully General Counterarguments · 2015-07-19T10:43:49.557Z · LW · GW

I like this idea, and I'd like to see it developed further. I don't see any reason why FGCAs shouldn't be catalogued and learned alongside logical fallacies for the same reasons.

I guess the important distinction would be that certain FGCAs can be used non-fallaciously, and some of these seem to have valid use-cases, like pointing out confirmation bias and mind-projection fallacy. Others are fallacious in their fully-general form, but have valid uses in their non-fully-general forms, so it is important to distinguish these. (e.g. pointing out vagueness or that something is too complicated and has too many dependencies for a given argument to have much weight.)

Great post!

I apologize for mentioning this, but there were a lot of typos in this, which made it a bit hard to read. I want to link this to a few friends who are not LWers, but when I am not familiar with the source of something, typos make me question the credibility of the author (they also provide an easy excuse to discount things people don't want to hear). I don't want that to happen when I show people, so I figured I'd help you out if you feel like cleaning it up a bit. Here's a quick list I put together for you:

  • Add comma after "But if (s)he is not aware of that"
  • Change "prone of" to "prone to"
  • "counter measures" should be "countermeasures"
  • "against which" should be "against whom" in "...clever arguer against which"
  • Add comma after "humble stance"
  • Change "FCGA" to "FGCA" in first bullet of The List and in first sentence under headings of both Self-Sealing Belief and Preventative Action
  • The third bullet is empty and fourth bullet seems like it is supposed to contains sub-cases of the missing third bullet
  • Under Nihilism, "Live" should be "Life" and the "-" needs to be closed after "including arguments"
  • "I don't like your opinion but I you are may have your own."
  • "Yur" => "Your" after "Humans are different"
  • In "the thing you are arguing about has evolved and exists just because of that, not because it is true or a valid argument." Just because of what? Evolution?
  • Opened paren but no contents or close-paren: "...more likely and more stable ("
Comment by TylerJay on [question] Recommendations for fasting · 2015-05-29T02:12:34.618Z · LW · GW

I used to drink coffee every day, but I don't anymore. I just drink green tea in the mornings if I want something hot. I definitely don't think it's worth risking the benefits of your fast by using sugar or milk in your coffee. If I recall correctly, Berkhan's assertion that half a teaspoon (or whatever it was) of milk wouldn't cause a problem wasn't really supported by any science, so I would avoid it if possible. I think his reasoning was that your body would metabolize it super quickly and then return to a fasted state, but it's not clear if you'll retain the benefits of a 16-hour fast that way. I suspect it would also increase food cravings during the rest of your fast. And the increase in taste of your coffee is such a minor benefit that it's just totally not worth the risk as far as I'm concerned. There are better ways of making black coffee taste good if it's that important to you (see below).

I agree that the sweet taste of artificial sweeteners probably does something counterproductive. Overweight soda-drinkers who switch to diet soda have been shown not to lose weight. That's proof enough for me that they work some sort of mischief on your metabolism. All in all, it's probably not going to really cause a noticeable difference, but I feel like they're worth avoiding for general health reasons anyway. Starting a daily artificial sweetener habit as a part of trying to get healthier with an IF protocol seems counterproductive to me. I'd avoid them.

As I mentioned above, it's totally possible to make great-tasting black coffee. If you want to make your coffee less bitter, you might want to invest in an Aeropress. Bitter coffee is usually a result of the water being too hot and/or in contact with the coffee grounds for too long. Those both cause too much tannic acid to leach into the coffee. The Aeropress solves that problem. Also, switch to a medium-dark or dark roast. That will let you get the all the darkness, flavor, and caffeine you want without having to use water that is so hot or without having it in contact with the grounds for too long. Doing these two things will make a world of difference. You probably won't need sweetener if you do that. (I drink my coffee black whenever I have it and it's delicious.)

The last thing you could look into if you really just can't stand black coffee is just buying caffeine pills and using that in place of coffee. I've used caffeine pills a lot and they're actually really convenient. The caffeine is the main component of coffee that stimulates your bowels, so it should suit that purpose as well as provide the normal energy boost.

Comment by TylerJay on Brainstorming new senses · 2015-05-24T01:54:25.209Z · LW · GW

What would you imagine the criteria would be?

Comment by TylerJay on Brainstorming new senses · 2015-05-24T01:39:29.445Z · LW · GW

I had never heard of any of these except people putting magnets in their fingertips. Thanks for the post!

Minor typo I noticed:

"...and it is unique in that it is not implanted but instead." (instead what?)

Comment by TylerJay on The Best Popular Books on Every Subject · 2015-05-19T23:09:04.203Z · LW · GW

I'll second the recommendation to relax this rule. I think the ability to gauge the quality of a popular book is a lot more cross-domain than with textbooks. I've read good books and I've read bad books. I can tell pretty quickly if a book is bad, even if I'm relatively new to the subject area.

Also, I feel like a lot of people would tend to only read one or two pop books in a particular area. Any more knowledge beyond that often comes from the internet or a textbook or elsewhere. I mean, I can count on one hand the number of specific subjects about which I've read more than two actual published books, but I've spent hundreds of hours each reading about many more subjects than that.

And since pop books aren't typically comprehensive accounts of an entire field or subject, the most important things really are clarity, engagingness, and worth, and not necessarily completeness. If what is there is valuable, accurate, and it's presented well, then it's Good, even if it doesn't cover some things that are covered by other books.

Comment by TylerJay on Open Thread, Apr. 27 - May 3, 2015 · 2015-05-06T02:29:28.338Z · LW · GW

Thanks, I'll check it out.

Comment by TylerJay on Open Thread, Apr. 27 - May 3, 2015 · 2015-05-04T23:11:46.483Z · LW · GW

Very informative. Thanks. I've heard reversible computing mentioned a few times, but have never looked into it. Any recommendations for a quick primer, or is wikipedia going to be good enough?

Comment by TylerJay on Open Thread, Apr. 27 - May 3, 2015 · 2015-05-04T23:02:34.151Z · LW · GW

There's no way to give a broad estimate on that. It's going to vary widely based on source, geographic location, and form (pressed pills vs powder/crystals/rocks).

Pressed pills or "Ecstasy" pills are more likely to have Amphetamine and/or other stimulants like caffeine and piperazines in addition to the MDMA, as they are intended as "rave drugs" for clubbing and dance parties. (Many users actually prefer amphetamine/caffeine in their pills because MDMA alone is more of a psychedelic than an "upper" and can make people want to sit down, look at the pretty colors, and rub each other instead of dance. Piperazines are typically considered "bad" adulterants, even by the crowd who likes amphetamine, and can be very dangerous, especially when combined with other drugs.)

Sometimes, product sold as MDMA (or Ecstasy) will not contain MDMA at all. Common drugs sold as MDMA are MDA (a metabolite of MDMA with similar effects), Methylone, and BZP (a piperazine), though there are many others depending on your geographic location and source.

Regarding geographic location, you can often find reports on government websites. For example, in the USA, I believe the DEA publishes the percentage of seized drugs that are adulterated (or are another drug altogether) by area (I have seen published numbers on their site for certain areas before, but I don't know if it's done regularly and I wouldn't expect out-of-date reports to still be accurate).

However, your estimate of the likelihood of having dangerous adulterants in your MDMA will likely be dominated by your ability to get trustworthy reports of other people who have taken the same "batch". (Note there are multiple areas for uncertainty here to account for. Honesty/motives of the people reporting + number of reports, ability of the people reporting to tell the difference, is it actually the same batch, and heterogeneity of the batch, to name a few.)

A few sources of this kind of information are:

  • Seller reviews and track record if you're buying online
  • Other people you know personally who have taken the same batch if you're buying in person
  • pillreports dot com (website. do NOT use this as your only source of information, as you never know if your pill is actually the one you see reviewed or an imitation)
  • Chemical reagent tests

If you are buying online, here is a harm reduction strategy: Select a seller with a perfect track record with regard to quality and a large number of reviews. Once you've received it, wait until you've seen a significant number of reviews from orders placed around the same time as and after you placed yours that are all still positive with respect to quality. This will help protect you from bait-and-switch tactics and should increase your confidence that the reviews you've read are of the same batch/product as you've received.

A chemical reagent test is a good risk- and harm-reduction measure that can be used in conjunction with any of the other measures. They change color based on the presence of MDMA and common adulterants (obviously sacrificing some of the stuff you're testing in the process). The most popular test is the Marquis Test. Other common tests include the Mecke Test and the Simons test. (Make sure to check the legality of these "test kits" in your area before ordering/purchasing one.)

Disclaimer (again): Do not do any of these things if it is illegal for you to do so. This is not intended to encourage or enable any illegal activity. I have posted this information in the interest of harm reduction and scholarly interest alone. If you do anything stupid or if any harm comes to you based on this information, it's not my fault. If you do anything illegal based on this information, I am not in any way responsible and I told you not to do it.

Comment by TylerJay on Open Thread, Apr. 27 - May 3, 2015 · 2015-05-03T21:50:43.275Z · LW · GW

Part 2

Macro-Level Physiological Effects

The increase in Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Serotonin caused by MDMA causes Central Nervous System (CNS) stimulation that can raise body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. It can also cause increased sweating and perspiration, insomnia, nausea, and diarrhea, all of which contribute to dehydration. These comprise Normal Risk #2 family. The fact that MDMA use is often associated with excessive dancing, hot environments, and limited access to water and electrolytes (such as at raves, music festivals, concerts, etc.) compounds these risks. So, if a person has no cardiovascular issues, is mindful of these risks, stays hydrated, ensures not to drink too much water without electrolytes, and keeps their heart rate and body temperature in check, most of these risks can be avoided. However, for anyone with cardiovascular issues (even ones they don't know about) this becomes Edge-Case Risk #3

Other/Unknown-Mechanism Psychological Effects

MDMA is a psychotropic drug. As such, it has the possibility of triggering latent psychological disorders such as Bipolar Disorder, Depression, epilepsy, and Schizophrenia just the same way that LSD, emotional stress, and head trauma do. The mechanism behind this phenomenon is still unknown. This is Edge-Case Risk #4 (I am also not as familiar with this area as most of the others, so I encourage you do to some independent research here.)

MDMA has also been documented to cause acute psychosis. The authors of the case-studies I have read dismissed the idea of there being a latent psychological disorder that was simply triggered because none of the typical milder early symptoms were present before ingestion of MDMA. A clinical psychiatrist that I know also confirmed to me that sometimes these psychotic episodes just happen in conjunction with psychotropic drugs. This is Edge-Case Risk #5 It should be noted that this is considered a rare event.

MDMA has also been observed to cause seizures, though this is rare. It is unknown whether this can be fully-attributed to dehydration, drug interactions, drug adulterants, or undiagnosed epilepsy. However, I have personally seen two people have seizures while on MDMA, so take from that what you will. This is Edge-Case Risk #6

And finally, long-term psychological side-effects such as insomnia and sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, anhedonia, irritability, and memory-impairment have been found in epidemiological studies (and reviews of such studies) of MDMA users. Unfortunately, epidemiological studies only show correlation, not causation, and many of the results could be attributed to self-medication. Human prospective studies and clinical trials are extremely limited with MDMA due to its legal status and ethics constraints, meaning that the majority of the published information on effects of MDMA is either animal studies, or is epidemiological and typically skewed toward chronic MDMA users. However, that correlation does exist which is at least weak evidence that MDMA use can cause these long-term effects. This is Normal Risk #3

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. This is not medical advice. This is not intended to encourage or enable any illegal activity. I have posted this information in the interest of harm reduction and scholarly interest alone. If you do anything stupid or if any harm comes to you based on this advice, it's not my fault.

If you found this valuable, leave me a comment. I'd appreciate it. And if you have any followup questions, feel free to ask. Cheers all.

Comment by TylerJay on Open Thread, Apr. 27 - May 3, 2015 · 2015-05-03T21:50:19.278Z · LW · GW

The risks of one-time MDMA use can be roughly sorted into two categories: "Normal Risks" which apply to everyone and "Edge-Case Risks" which only apply to certain people (though it may not always be clear, as we will see, if you are at risk for one of the edge-cases). I will give a very brief and oversimplified description of how MDMA is processed by the body and the effects it has, and then I will describe some of these risks. I didn't have time to put together sources and citations (especially as this was written from memory + fact checking), but my hope is that this will help people understand what the risks are and some of the mechanisms of action so that they can do more informed research into the topic.

Basic Neuroscience Background Information

In the human brain, where two neurons meet is called the Synapse. In reality, there is actually a small gap at the synapse between neurons called the synaptic cleft. When a signal traveling down a neuron reaches the end, it causes a release of neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft. These neurotransmitters fit like keys into keyholes called receptors on the second neuron. Depending on which keyholes/receptors are activated/filled, the second neuron takes some action like firing or not.

You can visualize this by holding your right fist up and then making a "C" shape around it with your left hand (they should be close, but not touching. While maintaining this, hold your elbows out to the sides. Each of your arms is a neuron. Your forearms are the "Axon" which is the path the signals travel down and the space between your hands is the synaptic cleft. A signal travels from your left elbow to your left fingers which causes them to release neurotransmitters into the space between your left hand and your right fist. All over your right fist are small keyholes called receptors that are shaped to specifically fit certain neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters float around in the gap for a while, some of them fitting into the keyholes, and some of them being reabsorbed by your left hand to be used later. (This reabsorption process is called "reuptake" by the way) If enough of the keyholes on your right fist are filled, then a signal travels from your right fist down to your right elbow, at which there is another synapse and the same thing happens.

Now, on your fist (or the "receiving" end of a synapse) you have a lot of receptors, but not all of these receptors are "on" or "active" at any given time. Your body maintains homeostasis by regulating the amount of active receptors for a certain neurotransmitter in response to the amount of that neurotransmitter that is typically produced. For example, I might produce (or rather, release) slightly less serotonin than you on average, but my body will deal with that by activating more serotonin receptors. In that case, our expected number of serotonin receptors that are filled with serotonin molecules at any given time would be roughly the same, so there would be no difference between us in that respect.

The last piece of background information we'll need is to explain "free radicals". You learned in high-school chemistry how atoms have electron shells/orbitals that "want" to have a specific number of electrons in them. This applies to molecules as well. When a molecule is missing an electron, it goes crazy and tries to steal one from its neighbors. A molecule in this state is called a "free radical". If it's pull is stronger than a neighbor's, then it takes one of the neighbor's electrons and calms down while the neighbor then goes crazy and becomes a free radical itself, looking to steal an electron from another molecule. This causes a chain reaction and can be very damaging to sensitive structures in your body like DNA or receptors in the brain.

The definition of an "antioxidant" is a molecule that can give up at least one of its electrons to a free radical without becoming a free radical itself, thereby ending the chain reaction. Free radicals are produced by pretty much all metabolic functions, so they are unavoidable to a certain extent. Your body uses antioxidants from your diet and endogenous antioxidants to counter this process every second of every day. Typically, it does a pretty good job and your body maintains homeostasis.

MDMA Mechanism of Action and Pharmacokinetics

MDMA causes excess release of Serotonin, Dopamine, and Norepinephrine into the synaptic cleft, though its action is primarily on Serotonin, so that's what I'll mostly focus on here.

So when you take MDMA, your neurons release excess serotonin into the synaptic cleft. This causes more binding to serotonin receptors which causes more firing of those neurons. This leads to the euphoria associated with MDMA use. However, your body wants to maintain homeostasis, so it starts turning off serotonin receptors. That way, even though there's more Serotonin, there are less places for it to bind, which reduces activity. Then your MDMA wears off and your neurons are actually releasing less serotonin than before. This, coupled with less active serotonin receptors leads to considerably lower serotonin activity. This is associated with the anhedonia, anxiety, and depression that sometimes follow MDMA usage for a few days. However, nothing I've just described is permanent, so your body will eventually up-regulate your serotonin receptors again, your serotonin stores will replenish, and you'll be back to normal.

However, this excess activity at the Serotonin receptors also creates excess free radicals. These free radicals can actually damage serotonin receptors (break them permanently) so that they can never be reactivated. In a single, modest dose, this is likely negligible, though with a single super-dose, it is significant. This highlights the important of having antioxidants available to your brain throughout the MDMA trip. A study was done on monkeys where they gave them super-does of MDMA, some with a Vitamin C injection and some without, and found significant brain-damage reduction (as in, blocked the vast majority of brain damage) in the Vitamin C group. (sorry, I can't find the study right now.)

So, with chronic use or higher doses, this kind of damage becomes more and more of a problem and leads to brain lesions in the serotonergic neural pathways, and is Normal Risk #1

When your neurons absorb MDMA, it has effects on the Monoamine Oxidase system. Therefore, taking MDMA with Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) is extremely dangerous and can be life-threatening. Do not take MDMA if you are on MAOIs (and make damn sure you check if any meds you are on or recreation drugs you take are MAOIs). This is Edge-Case Risk #1

Your body breaks down MDMA largely through the CYP450 family of liver enzymes—primarily CYP2D6, but also CYP3A4 and possibly some others to minor extents. Therefore, if these enzymes are inhibited or otherwise not fully functional, your body will not be able to eliminate MDMA (or will do so much more slowly) which can lead to overdose and amplification of the detrimental effects on your brain, cardiovascular system, and more. Inhibition of CYP450 enzymes can be caused by certain medications (like Tagamet/Cimetidine or Ritonavir) or foods like grapefruit and grapefruit juice. This is Edge-Case Risk #2a. Certain people may also have genetically-impaired CYP2D6 activity which can lead to similar complications. This is Edge-Case Risk #2b

Comment by TylerJay on Tim Ferris Experiment · 2015-04-29T17:42:16.718Z · LW · GW

...or Tim Feriss is seen as low status because he's not an academic (or for some other reason), so nobody tried. Could be a hidden alternative.

Comment by TylerJay on Open Thread, Apr. 27 - May 3, 2015 · 2015-04-27T23:17:03.619Z · LW · GW

How insane would it be to just not have a control group?

Pretty insane in my opinion. I can't imagine anything I would grade more harshly than not having a control except ethics violations.

Besides, don't most university psychology experiments with volunteers keep the protocol secret throughout the whole experiment and then debrief at the end? (Or sometimes even lie about the protocol to avoid skewing the results?)

Alternatively, have you thought about doing a crossover-style design?

Take group A and group B. Group A plays your game, and then takes the test. Group B either just takes the test or goes through some traditional education lesson (or whatever else you want for your control) and then takes the test. Next, group A does the traditional education, group B does the game, and both take part 2 of the test.

That way, everyone gets to play the game at least, though it means they're there for twice as long. Do you think you could pitch this in a way that is better than the "Maybe you play a game, maybe you don't" option?

You could potentially derive additional research value from this as well. If group A does better on Test Part 2, then your game would be shown to be a better way of acclimating people to traditional education on the subject or something like that (I'm sure you can draw a better conclusion or phrase this better).

Just some thoughts. Also, make sure you write up a grading rubric ahead of time (or ideally, have someone else do it) and then have someone who knows nothing (or as little as possible) about the experiment (and especially the subjects) grade the answers to avoid researcher bias.

Comment by TylerJay on Nick Bostrom's TED talk on Superintelligence is now online · 2015-04-27T22:54:38.513Z · LW · GW

I thoroughly enjoyed it and think it was really well done. I can't perfectly judge how accessible it would be to those unfamiliar with x-risk mitigation and AI, but I think it was pretty good in that respect and did a good job of justifying the value alignment problem without seeming threatening.

I like how he made sure to position the people working on the value alignment problem as separate from those actually developing the potentially-awesome-but-potentially-world-ending AI so that the audience won't have any reason to not support what he's doing. I just hope the implicit framing of superintelligent AI as an inevitability, not a possibility, isn't so much of an inferential leap that it takes people out of reality-mode and into fantasy-mode.

Comment by TylerJay on LessWrong experience on Alcohol · 2015-04-21T05:00:50.668Z · LW · GW

That's a really interesting point. Personally, I never even taste the things that people make analogies to when drinking wine. An ex-girlfriend of mine would always ask me things like "don't you taste blackberries? or "Isn't this buttery?" and would be really disappointed when I said no. I don't think it's because I have a bad sense of taste though. In fact, I'll often be able to tell if I've had a specific wine before (if it's the same vintage) because I recognize the taste signature, and I can sometimes say which other wines I've had that it tastes similar to. I just don't know how to describe the flavors.

Comment by TylerJay on LessWrong experience on Alcohol · 2015-04-21T04:31:13.328Z · LW · GW

I went to a party school for college (a top school in the US though) and was a pretty big partier, so hopefully I can offer the "general population perspective" as I think my early alcohol experiences are closer to that of an average person than to a typical LessWronger.

If you average all my years in college, I probably drank 3.5 or 4 days a week with about a quarter of those sessions to nearly blackout-level intoxication. In my experience, college-aged kids who are relatively new to drinking only care about the intoxicating effects. Since they're not acclimated to the taste of alcohol yet, NO alcoholic drinks really taste good, which is why high school kids and college 1st years drink so much plastic-bottle vodka, usually mixed with or followed by something sugary like soda or a sports drink. Some kinds of alcohol will taste especially bad to new drinkers though, and some types require you to drink more volume to get the desired effect, which is a related selection factor, so there is some taste preference going on.

Fast forward a few years to late-college where people have been drinking socially for 2+ years and you start to see a lot less plastic vodka/Coors Light (except for beer games) and a lot more craft beer and more diverse liquors. Part of that is probably a signaling thing ("look at me, I have a more refined palette than you") but I know that a lot of it is not. When I first started drinking, I didn't like beer at all, and beers with more flavor tasted worse than "piss-water" beer for exactly that reason—they had more flavor. But after a couple of years, I really did enjoy nicer bottled beers a lot more than cheap cans of beer. I would never sit down and drink a Coors Light while watching a movie with a couple friends, but we would often buy a 12 pack of something nicer and drink that, and that decision was purely based on taste (even though the nicer beers are often more bitter than the Coors. They have a more complex taste profile which makes it more enjoyable.) Eventually, the ethanol in the beverage is not really tasted as much (at least for beverages in the 4 to 15% ABV range) and people come to appreciate the other flavors present and develop preferences around those.

Now I want to pose a related question to people who claim to enjoy the taste of certain alcohols that I think may be enlightening: Would you still drink your favorite alcohol if it tasted exactly the same, but didn't have any inebriating effects whatsoever? Personally, I would not, and I would guess that the majority of people would agree with me. However, non-alcoholic beer and wine is sold and I know people (like my mother) who drink one or the other, and often a lot of it. However, many of them are former alcoholics (again, like my mother) so there is probably a more complex addiction- and reward-mechanism-related explanation, at least for my few datapoints.

To answer the other question though, I don't really drink anymore personally—less than 10 times in the past year. I stopped because my hangovers started getting unbearable (really bad "physical" anxiety, like all the symptoms of a panic attack except that I know there's nothing wrong and am not actually worrying about anything, just feeling miserable—headaches/shakiness/photosensitivity/rebound-hyperexcitation/the works). I'll even get hangover symptoms an hour or two after having a single beer if I don't keep drinking, so my only option is to binge drink so I sleep through the night. So these days, I NEVER drink alone and only drink when I'm in a social situation where everyone else is drinking and it would be really unpleasant to be the only sober person (drunk people are less annoying when you're drunk too). I have to weigh the costs and ask myself "is it worth the hangover?" The answer is usually "No," but after enough time of feeling like I'm missing out on all the fun, the answer will become "Yes" and then the timer resets after the hangover the next day. On those occasions where I do drink though, taste is definitely a factor and I like to get the most out of it and have a variety of really nice beers, which I enjoy thoroughly (though now, some of it may be scarcity effects, but I don't think that's a major factor).

Hope this was helpful to someone.

(Made minor edit for accuracy)

Comment by TylerJay on Effective effective altruism: Get $400 off your next charity donation · 2015-04-21T03:25:58.404Z · LW · GW

Just a notice for anyone wondering: They stack.

Comment by TylerJay on Bragging Thread March 2015 · 2015-03-18T19:20:42.473Z · LW · GW

Haha, thanks. Was just curious. You're right about it being significantly cheaper. 5 days in the hospital, surgery, and all the drugs that go along with that: ~$400 USD.

Comment by TylerJay on [FINAL CHAPTER] Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 122 · 2015-03-17T19:47:49.276Z · LW · GW

And just a few lines before your last quote:


"I did not have any friends like that when I was young." Still the same emotionless voice. "What would have become of you, I wonder, if you had been alone?"

Comment by TylerJay on [FINAL CHAPTER] Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 122 · 2015-03-17T19:43:41.111Z · LW · GW

What I love about this twist is how it changes the interpretation of so many other things that were said throughout the story. For example:

"Purposeless?" said Professor Quirrell. "Oh, but the madness of Dumbledore is not that he is purposeless, but that he has too many purposes.

It turns out PQ was right in that the madness of Dumbledore was not purposeless, however much his going around and "snipping all the threads of destiny" to constrain future events would, to anyone without all the knowledge of prophecy, look like many divergent purposes. Even Dumbledore himself didn't know how or why some of them fit into the whole picture. But it was all done in service of his one true goal. And if the service of that goal had involved killing Harry or framing Hermione? Well,

"Who knows what the Headmaster thinks he has reason to do, when he has found reason to do so many strange things already."

Comment by TylerJay on [FINAL CHAPTER] Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 122 · 2015-03-15T09:09:27.423Z · LW · GW

I couldn't be happier with the ending. So perfect.

"I think that you always were, from the day I met you, my mysterious old wizard."

Thank you so much Eliezer. It's been an amazing journey.

Comment by TylerJay on Bragging Thread March 2015 · 2015-03-15T08:48:18.372Z · LW · GW

I derived Bayes' Theorem and the basic rule for conditional probabilities today while trying to find the answer to a question.

I had seen Bayes' Theorem before, but never really understood it and certainly had never memorized it. The only relevant knowledge I had was:

  • That the syntax for "probability of A given B" is p(A|B)
  • That you can multiply independent probabilities to do AND, but aren't allowed to do that if they are dependent

I was surprised at how it followed directly from intuition and the last bullet point above. I put together a toy problem involving the probability that I go outside depending on if it's raining or not and was able to derive Bayes' Theorem essentially from first principles. Not a groundbreaking accomplishment or anything, but I know I'll never forget any of it now!

The line of reasoning was really simple once I was able to distill it:

  1. I can simulate the probability that I'm outside given that it's raining by first rolling a die to see if it's raining, and if it is, then rolling another die to see if I'm outside, since I already know it's raining.
  2. These are clearly independent events, so I should be able to multiply their probabilities to get the probability of their conjunction.
  3. What does the conjunction mean? Intuitively, I'm outside and it's raining exactly when each of those die rolls turned up True, so this multiplication must give the probability that I'm outside and it's raining: p(outside|raining) * p(raining) = p(outside AND raining)
  4. And if that works, then symmetrically, this same probability p(outside AND raining) should also be equal to the probability that it's raining given that I'm outside times the probability that I'm outside.
  5. Isolate p(outside|raining) on one side of the equation and Boom: Bayes' Theorem.

p(A|B) p(B) = p(A & B) = p(B|A) p(A)

p(A|B) p(B) = p(B|A) p(A)

p(A|B) = [p(B|A) * p(A)] / p(B)

Comment by TylerJay on Bragging Thread March 2015 · 2015-03-15T07:52:16.857Z · LW · GW


Out of curiosity: What do you think of Czech healthcare? I got appendicitis while visiting the Czech Republic and had to have my appendix out while there in a hospital that was built in the 1300s.

Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 116 · 2015-03-09T07:22:53.270Z · LW · GW

Haha, yup, I gotcha. Thanks for the info.

Comment by TylerJay on False thermodynamic miracles · 2015-03-08T01:47:45.096Z · LW · GW

Just remember that this isn't a boxing setup. This is just a way of seeing what an AI will do under a false belief. From what I can tell, the concerns you brought up about it trying to get out isn't any different between the scenario when we simulate C3PO* and when we simulate C3PO. The problem of making a simulation indistinguishable from reality is a separate issue.

Comment by TylerJay on False thermodynamic miracles · 2015-03-07T04:16:53.569Z · LW · GW

Here's my explanation of it. Let me know if this helps with your concerns at all:

Imagine we have an AI design we want to test. Call this AI C3PO, and let its utility function be U(A) where A is a world-state from the set of all possible world-states. And let the super-unlikely-event-happening-at-the-specified-time described in the post be w such that w = true if it happens and w = false if it doesn't happen. Then let A be a world state in the subset of all world-states A in which w = true. Basically, A is A given that w happened (this is how we simulate a "false belief" by only allowing the AI to consider worlds in which w = true). Finally, let C be a constant.

The proposal is that we create a variant of C3PO, C3PO* that has the utility function:

U*(A) = P(!w) * C + P(w) * (U(A*))

If the AI is boxed such that it cannot affect the probability of w occurring and it cannot modify its own utility function, then maximizing U is exactly the same as maximizing U once event w has occurred (ie. with false belief w). In this way, we are able to perfectly simulate C3P0 to find out what it would do if w were true, but we don't actually have to convince it that w* is true.

Comment by TylerJay on False thermodynamic miracles · 2015-03-07T03:38:31.092Z · LW · GW

Thanks. I understand now. Just needed to sleep on it, and today, your explanation makes sense.

Basically, the AI's actions don't matter if the unlikely event doesn't happen, so it will take whatever actions would maximize its utility if the event did happen. This maximizes expected utility

Maximizing [P(no TM) C + P(TM) u(TM, A))] is the same as maximizing u(A) under assumption TM.

Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 116 · 2015-03-07T03:21:26.430Z · LW · GW

Nope, you're right. It's not definitive. In my original comment, I just said I thought I remembered reading somewhere that you couldn't fit >30 hrs into a day, and the passage I quoted is where I got that impression. If /r/hpmor thinks it's possible that TTs let you fit up to 48 hrs in a day, then I have high confidence there wasn't anything explicitly forbidding it in the story.

Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 116 · 2015-03-06T00:01:31.293Z · LW · GW

Ch 17:


"...Sorry to ask but I was wondering, is it possible to get more than six hours if you use more than one Time-Turner? Because it's pretty impressive if you're doing all that on just thirty hours a day."


"I'm afraid Time doesn't like being stretched out too much," said Dumbledore after the slight pause, "and yet we ourselves seem to be a little too large for it, and so it's a constant struggle to fit our lives into Time."

Comment by TylerJay on HPMOR Wrap Parties: Resources, Information and Discussion · 2015-03-05T21:20:37.112Z · LW · GW

Anyone interested in a Central/Southern California wrap-party? Even if it's pretty informal?

Comment by TylerJay on HPMOR Wrap Parties: Resources, Information and Discussion · 2015-03-05T21:12:53.914Z · LW · GW

Just wanted to say that I almost missed this because I only check Main every other month or so. There are a lot of people who only really browse Discussion, and that's where pretty much all of the HPMOR discussion goes on anyway on LW. Can you x-post? I'm going to make a discussion post linking this Main post just for visibility. If you x-post it, I can delete it, just let me know.

Thanks for organizing this!

Comment by TylerJay on False thermodynamic miracles · 2015-03-05T21:03:54.965Z · LW · GW

This is really interesting. I thought I understood it and I wanted to verify that by trying to summarize it (and maybe help others too) but now I'm not so sure...

Edit: Just to save anybody the reading time, my reasoning is false below. After sleeping on it, I see my mistake. Nothing below the "False Thermodynamic Miracles" subheading made sense to me yesterday because I thought the purpose of the setup was to have an "off switch" on the simulated AI under the false belief (letting it see the result of the signal after some time period). I get it now though. Maximizing "[P(no miracle) C] + [P(miracle) u(A) given miracle]" is the same as maximizing "u(A) given miracle". So the AI will act as if the miracle happened, because there's no cost associated with those actions if it didn't happen—only benefits if it did.

As I understand it, the basic premise is that the AI has a utility function u(w,A) where "w" is whether or not the specific thermodynamic miracle (TM) occurred and A represents a regular/normal input to a utility function (state of the universe, action taken, or whatever).

u(w,A) = C (a low constant) if w is false (TM did not happen), and u(w,A) is essentially "u(A) given w" when w is true (ie. it's a "normal" kind of utility function, dominated by things other than the TM, though it still has to incorporate the fact that the TM happened into its model of the world).

So, the signal is sent, and it calculates its expected utility for either scenario. If w = false, u(w,A) = a low constant, and if w = true, it determines an action A that maximizes the utility function u(A)|w. As long as 2^-100 u( A ) > C, it starts taking action A.

Is this right so far?

Then, after "ON" has gone through, it must adapt itself and backtrack on its previous behaviour.

This mechanism seems underspecified to me (though maybe it's obvious to others). Why would it backtrack (or what do you mean by backtrack)? Eventually, it observes that w = false (that "ON" went through unchanged) and that its actions are no longer beneficial, so it just stops doing anything, right? The process terminates or it goes to standby?

If we want the AI to actually backtrack, wouldn't we need to modify the utility function so that it takes a configuration parameter as well? u(w,A,X) s.t. X = true iff the AI is in its initial configuration, and set it so that u(F,A,F) = 0, but u(F,A,T) = C ? (this probably counts as just an implementation detail, but I figured I'd mention it anyway)

The part that makes me feel like I didn't actually understand it at all is:

However, the only possible world that it cares about, now, is one in which the "ON" signal was overwritten by a thermodynamic miracle... into exactly the same "ON" signal. As long as the possibility of this is non-zero, the AI will behave as if it's certain.

Can you explain this a bit more? Do you mean that even after it observes "ON", it doesn't stop acting as if w = true? That P(TM that overwrites ON with ON) * u(A)|w > C ? If that's the case, then it would never backtrack, right? So it's essentially a full simulation of an AI under the assumption w, but with the knowledge that w is incredibly unlikely, and no built-in halting condition?


Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 116 · 2015-03-05T19:33:54.830Z · LW · GW

Thought so. Seems like a pretty close call to me. Thanks.

Although, really, it seems a bit contrived. If QQ was identified to the wards as the defense professor, wouldn't that be what the Hogwarts security system sees?

Comment by TylerJay on Announcement: The Sequences eBook will be released in mid-March · 2015-03-05T08:33:36.782Z · LW · GW

I don't know much about copyright law, but I still don't understand whether it's okay to use this in a classroom setting. If it's a free course or nonprofit, it seems it's allowed, but what about:

  • A paid course offered by a for-profit institution where the reading material is linked to or provided for no additional (explicit) fee?
  • A course where excerpts are part of a reader that costs money?

I've been wondering this in general, not just related to this particular e-book, so if you know the answers, I'd appreciate it. Thanks!

Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 116 · 2015-03-05T08:26:24.806Z · LW · GW

And Monroe was in Slytherin. That was a piece of intentionally leaked information so that the "smart" people could deduce that he was Monroe.

Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 116 · 2015-03-05T08:21:06.248Z · LW · GW

I've been wondering about this for a while, but never had a chance to do the required detective work. Were Harry and the Defense Professor in the castle at the time? If so, when Dumbles said "Find Tom Riddle..." he most definitely learned that HP and QQ were both Tom Riddles.

So... were they in the castle at the time? Or was QQ at St. Mungo's or the DMLE?

Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 116 · 2015-03-05T08:17:06.245Z · LW · GW

I see lots of people doing that on /r/hpmor and I've never been confused by it, strangely enough. It's not just you. You probably absorbed it unconsciously.

Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 116 · 2015-03-05T08:14:29.724Z · LW · GW

Yup. Part of my justifications to Harry setting the stage in 115 were (from right before this):

If the most terrible Dark Lord in history, confronts an innocent [girl] - why, how could he not be vanquished?

Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 116 · 2015-03-05T08:10:20.631Z · LW · GW

Unclear. Either midnight or as soon as last 24 hours contain less than 6 hours of looped time. I've been wondering this as well. I think I remember something being said like "No combination of time-turners could let you fit more than 30 hours into a day" but I don't know if that really helps...

Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 113 · 2015-03-03T11:44:27.892Z · LW · GW

Nice. I like it.

I expanded my previous post in a full solution (very long) with a pretty thorough line of reasoning. In the end, I convinced myself that Voldemort is not acting in his self-interest by killing Harry and that he's dangerously overconfident in his understanding of the Prophecy and his ability to avert it. Here are the relevant excerpts from my solution:

Tell Voldie that original prophecy ("born as the seventh month dies...") has not yet been fulfilled, and argue that this calls for rethinking killing Harry because attempting to kill him might cause this prophecy to come true in a bad way and might provide mechanism for "remnant" of Harry to survive and fulfill second prophecy. [Evidence: Snape said "No, I would know if it were fulfilled." Apparently, neither Dumbles or Minnie found anything strange with the idea that "If it were complete, it would make sense to me," so that's likely a known/plausible attribute of prophecies.] LV was very sure that he understood it enough to take risky action that time, but was wrong. "Seems you learned wrong lesson from previous mistake with prophecy, teacher." Argue that it was lack of understanding of previous prophecy that led to loss of LV's first body, not the act of trying to turn it to his advantage.

LV's actions now are driven solely by prophecy. Just as before, it will make him fall victim to it. How can you not realize you're actions are being completely determined by what you heard?

Tell LV that he strongly believes that things will turn out badly for LV and the Prophecy will not be averted if he tries to kill him (Harry never meant to end his immortality, just temporarily disembody him [so the curse is still in play and LV cannot kill Harry, though my solution has Harry not share this information])

Harry has heard a third prophecy that seems to indicate that Harry will survive beyond this day. It's better not to tempt fate. (...and 3 their devices...)

If still haven't gotten him to give in and spare you: "Okay, seriously? You're Trying to tell me that you still assign a greater than 50% probability to the idea that killing me here tonight is in your best interests?"

Eventually, LV will tell him the prophecy. If not, Harry can just go from his (correct) best guess based on what he heard ("Tear apart the very s-") Stars? Sun? His first 2 thoughts when hearing it, narrowed down to Stars from Firenze's comments, and deducing the "End the world" part from the fact that his mother said the world would end if Lilly were nice to her sister and the fact that Firenze called him "Son of Lilly".

Explain that he's pretty sure it says he will tear apart the very stars and that it will be the end of the world [...] Harry explains Star Lifting, Dyson Spheres, and the amount of energy required for interstellar travel or other futuristic technologies. If that's what the prophecy means, which is way more likely than anything else at this point, since what LV was really doing was not "snipping all threads of destiny" but constraining the solution-space. If he tries/succeeds in killing Harry, then the prophecy will still come true, but neither of them would have any control over how it happened, because all choice has been removed. And, knowing the nature of Prophecy, that's how bad things happen. So wouldn't it be better to work together toward making sure the world doesn't end and that Wizardkind gets a way to escape the Planet Earth, just like Voldie wants? Even if somehow Voldie manages to kill Harry tonight and the prophecy just doesn't happen which has never happened in the history of ever, what amount of diminishing pleasure from torturing idiots could possibly be worth more than all that? And at that point, once they've solved permanent death for everyone, people will probably want to play War with You. They'll be lining up by the thousands. Every clever person on the planet will want to try their skills against Lord Voldemort. I'll play War against you for as long as you want! It'll be fun! That's the kind of fun you can only really have in a post-scarcity, post-death society.

Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 113 · 2015-03-03T11:26:03.161Z · LW · GW

I submitted it. Here's the link to my whole solution (It's long, with backup plans and a few unique mechanics) if you're interested. I'm pretty proud of it, given the time constraints.

Comment by TylerJay on Probability of coming into existence again ? · 2015-03-02T19:14:57.975Z · LW · GW

How would you distinguish you popping into existence with different qualia (and different memories/personality/etc.) from someone else popping into existence with different qualia (+memories/personality/etc.)? As others have argued, I think the flaw in the reasoning is that there is a privileged "I" that you are that is separate from the body/mind you wear.

Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 113 · 2015-03-02T19:07:31.605Z · LW · GW

Here's another object-level tactic I haven't seen mentioned yet. (Assume LV will not just kill Harry for speaking of non-magical powers. I have a way of increasing the likelihood of this assumption being true)

Harry could explain the Power of Expected Utility Calculations and subtly attempt a Pascal's Mugging on LV, convincing him that LV can't possibly assign a probability of less than one in twenty that killing Harry will indeed avert the prophecy, or for that matter cause it, and that the rational action to take is to not kill Harry. He can present it as a "power" to stop the timer and buy a life, regardless of if LV accepts the conclusion, since it is a valuable tool for the future and was probably not in the books Harry gave him to read.

Harry can also explain the Power of Bayesian Probability Updates, both to buy a life and to provide a framework within which to argue that the probability that LV killing Harry backfires is much higher than he previously expected. If the Mugging alone doesn't work, then Harry can combine this with EV calculations to construct a valid argument that LV shouldn't kill him.

I'm starting to develop a way to chain this with some other arguments and strategies into a cohesive strategy and I'm starting to feel pretty good about it. Thoughts?

Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 113 · 2015-03-02T18:29:21.927Z · LW · GW

I agree. This is a good line of reasoning. I was just saying that Harry has to make that argument and it's not guaranteed LV will accept it.

Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 113 · 2015-03-02T18:25:26.149Z · LW · GW

Eliezer himself has a 24.5 hr sleep cycle. I think it was just that and a way to get a time turner

Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 113 · 2015-03-02T17:46:57.957Z · LW · GW

Voldemort will probably tell him

I don't think that's a foregone conclusion, and not one Harry would be willing to bet his life and the fate of the universe on. Voldemort specifically said that he doesn't want to tell Harry because telling him could make it come true. Harry has to convince Voldie that it's not just okay to tell him, but beneficial to his goals to tell him. That's the kind of argument you'd have to craft here.

Comment by TylerJay on Open thread, Mar. 2 - Mar. 8, 2015 · 2015-03-02T17:42:48.402Z · LW · GW

Last line of the article explains the motivation:

I wouldn’t mention it at all, but the inventor is not a human being and it’s a very good example of a “pure mechanical invention”.

Comment by TylerJay on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 113 · 2015-03-02T07:17:36.968Z · LW · GW

"Stuporfy" would probably be the better option here. Yes, it's visible, but LV doesn't know about swerving stunners, since Flitwick never demonstrated it in public. It's probably the best chance Harry has of triggering a resonance by casting a spell, assuming he can fire one off.